Skype will replace the Messenger app in Windows 8.1, making it Windows' centerpiece for communicating across all devices. Assuming Windows 8.1 takes over the desktop world, where does that leave other messaging services?
Talking Around the Numbers
Skype has come a very long way from its indie PC free-phone call roots. It now offers group calling, party chats, texting, screen sharing for collaboration and is available on pretty much every device. That makes it a major part of Microsoft's tactics when it comes to keeping Windows relevant for both consumers and business.
So much so, in fact, that when you start up Windows 8.1 on or after its October 18 release date, Skype will be one of the first things you see on the tiled screen. So, while Apple had to build its FaceTime and Messaging audience from scratch (how many casual iPhone users know FaceTime is there, and how many actually use it?), Microsoft has a 300 million plus army ready to roll when Skype appears pre-installed.
Assuming Windows 8.1 does help drive PC sales, then it could generate even more users as they adopt the first thing they see on their PC or Windows tablet, and then get the appropriate app for their smartphone, non-Windows tablet, Xbox console or other device. With Skype everywhere, could it help reinvigorate Microsoft and the Windows experience?
Taking Things on Anti-Trust
Of course, we've been here before, and Microsoft has been in trouble before. We've seen browsers, security products and other software buried into various versions of Windows, as the company tried to move from being just an operating system to a full service offering. All swiftly followed by legal action.
With both Skype, and whatever SkyDrive is renamed as, coming pre-installed on Windows 8.1, rival services from Box to Viber and many more, could start racing to the courts with anti-competition, antitrust and other lawsuits, even before the free OS update goes live.
Sure, there is nothing to stop users installing other apps and services, and most of those apps are already on the Windows Marketplace. But unless Microsoft puts up an install screen offering links to rival products (as happened with the Internet Explorer case) then it could well be seen as preferring its own solutions over others. Even such an app choice menu probably won't be enough as rivals smell blood (and money) through the courts.
Will Skype or Windows Make A Difference?
A contrarian view is that Windows 8.1 will do nothing for Microsoft's fortunes. We've heard today that Lenovo now makes more revenue from mobiles than it does from PCs, and with Microsoft struggling to sell Surface tablets, the arrival of more apps on the front-end of an update could make little difference to current users and is unlikely to attract new ones.
Even though Windows Phone sales are rising, there's also no guarantee that those users will show any interest in buying a new laptop just for the same tiled interface experience when Skype runs happily on older versions of Windows . The same goes for the upcoming Xbox console and anything else Microsoft is planning, a communications app just won't be that big of an attraction.
While Microsoft does have a growing and vibrant ecosystem across the world of Windows 8, it is still dwarfed by Windows 7 users, Android phones and iOS devices. Microsoft is making a brave move to unite and expand its users further with this move, but it could easily be one that ends in the Seattle company being cut off.